Up Close: Alice Feeney

A Birthday Party on a Remote Island Turns Deadly

By Dawn Ius

To say Daisy Darker has a dysfunctional family might be oversimplifying things. They aren’t exactly close—in fact, some of them haven’t had contact with each other in years. Which already makes for a bit of an awkward reunion when they must gather at the family matriarch’s home to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Daisy adores her Nan, Beatrice—a children’s author who made her fortune decades ago on a book titled Daisy Darker’s Little Secret—as well as the eccentric old house she grew up in, a gothic-style home on an isolated island at the bottom of a cliff only accessible during low tide.

As the tide rolls out, effectively leaving them trapped together for the evening, Beatrice kicks off the “celebration” by reading aloud her will—a will that upsets almost the entire family. Then one of them is found dead. Things get even more awkward—and twisty—from that point onward.

There’s a reason Feeney is known as one of the genre’s best. DAISY DARKER continues in this tradition—perhaps even surpassing expectations. In this interview with The Big Thrill, Feeney talks about why this book is extra special, her Halloween traditions, and why readers might someday see a children’s book in her future.

Alice Feeney
Photo credit: Brian Grant

Your previous books have blown me away, in particular Rock Paper Scissors, which I know was an ITW Award nominee. But DAISY DARKER may be my favorite—and I heard in an interview that it’s yours as well. What made this book so special for you?

DAISY was the hardest book to write and took the longest (five years), but it is also the one I am most proud of. She lived in my head for so long, and I really wanted to tell her story the best possible way and do it justice. I suppose I know her so well she feels like family to me, which makes this book and her story extra special.

In addition to a wonderful cast of characters, you introduce us to Seaglass, a “crumbling gothic house” just off the Cornish coast. I’d love to hear more about the inspiration for this house/setting.

I am a bit in love with Seaglass—it is so real in my head that I wish it was in real life. I’ve been visiting the same secluded spot in Cornwall on my birthday in October for years. Every time I am there, I think of Daisy. On the crumbling cliff path down to the black sandy bay, with the waves crashing on the rocks in the distance, I imagine Seaglass. I picture the eccentric old house with its turquoise roof and a hallway filled with clocks.

I love the opening of this book—our narrator, Daisy, tells us: “I was born with a broken heart.” Did this book begin for you with this line, or did the novel unfold in a different, perhaps less linear, way? Also, we know that first lines are certainly important to hook the reader, but in terms of your process, how important is when you nail that opening?

I always know the opening line for months, sometimes years before I start a book. This was always Daisy’s. It was the first thing I knew about her, so it felt right to me that it should be the first thing that readers learn too. I’m a planner, so I think about the books and plan them out in quite a lot of detail before I write a word.

Feeney writing in Cornwall, where DAISY DARKER is set

Daisy’s Nana, Beatrice, is a famous children’s book author who made her fortune on the book titled Daisy Darker’s Little Secret. Throughout this book, you have some wonderful verses—they truly brought me back to my childhood and the books that stuck with me. How did you craft that voice? Is there a children’s book in your future?

Ha! I have thought about it. My biggest fan is my niece, but she’s six years old and still a smidgen too young to read anything I write! There are five more dark and twisty books for adults on the way, but maybe one day.

Your books are full of twists and turns—Rock Paper Scissors made me gasp every few chapters—and DAISY DARKER is true to form. How do you keep them all outlined? And to that end—without spoilers, is this something you plotted or are you more of a pantser?

I always plot everything. There is no right or wrong way to write, but for me, starting a novel without a plan would be like going on a big walk with the dog without a map—I’d spend the entire time worrying about getting lost instead of enjoying the journey.

At its core, DAISY DARKER is the story of family—dysfunctional as it may be. What about “family” makes it ripe for a thriller novel? What were some of the factors that went into crafting this very unique set of family members?

Feeney is the author of Rock Paper Scissors, which was an instant New York Times bestseller and is currently being made into a TV series for Netflix by the producer of The Crown.

I worry that people will presume I have horrible siblings when they read DAISY DARKER, but the truth is I am an only child. I think that has always made me curious about the dynamics in other, larger families.

I agree with Daisy that every family is a fortress that few outsides get to see inside, and I find that fascinating. We are perhaps the truest version of ourselves with our family, because they know us best. But the people who know us best can sometimes hurt us the most, because they know how.

I had a lot of fun getting to know each member of the Darker family, but I’m glad I don’t know them in real life.

DAISY DARKER is on a number of “most anticipated” lists. What are three books on yours?

I’m looking forward to reading Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid and Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (which I have been saving for my holiday) and an Agatha Christie novel I haven’t read before.

Halloween is my favorite time of year—and I loved that this book is set on Halloween. Do you have a favorite Halloween tradition?

We watch spooky films at Halloween and eat lots of sweet treats!

Feeney visited Burgh Island and stayed in the beach house where Agatha Christie wrote And Then There Were None. DAISY DARKER is an homage to that book.

What can you share about any upcoming projects?

I’ll be sending my next book to my agents and publishers when I get back from the US book tour for DAISY DARKER, Book Six will be out next year. I’m also excited to share that filming will hopefully start on the TV adaptation of Rock Paper Scissors, so a busy but exciting few months ahead. I feel very lucky to have the best job in the world, which is all down to having the best readers, so thank you to everyone who has supported me and my books, I’m forever grateful.

Dawn Ius
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